Marketing during a crisis? Keep calm and follow these ground rules

For the past few weeks, the world has been transfixed by the coronavirus crisis, and unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.

There’s no doubt that the crisis has impacted marketing efforts, and companies are left wondering how they should handle their marketing during this challenging and unprecedented time. Should they back off entirely, or simply change their message and tone? However you craft your approach, consider following the ground rules we’ve laid out below.

1. Revisit automated or scheduled content

This may seem obvious, but there are several examples of companies mishandling this in embarrassing ways. Consider Spirit Airlines, who—on the day after President Trump announced a 30-day travel ban from Europe—sent out emails with the subject line, “ “Never A Better Time To Fly.” When asked about this blunder, the airline claimed the message had been created months prior and simply forgotten about.

The “set it and forget it” philosophy is popular with Pardot users (think: evergreen nurturing programs built out through Engagement Studio), but it can also be a precarious approach. If you have automated emails in place, it’s time to revisit and re-evaluate their content. The same goes for emails you scheduled prior to the crisis’s emergence.

If you locate problematic content, either replace it or pause the automation altogether until a better time. No content at all is better than offensive or upsetting content.

2. Develop a new content strategy

Now that you’ve reviewed your existing content and made necessary changes, it’s time to think about your messaging going forward. If you haven’t already, consider whether your company should comment on the crisis. To answer that question, discuss these scenarios amongst your team:

  • Do you or your customers have concerns about your ability to operate without disruption or delay?
  • Does your company have the ability to aid in the crisis somehow?
  • Is your industry—or the industries of your customers— expected to be impacted by the crisis?

If so, publicly commenting makes sense as long as you do so in an effort to provide important or useful information.

Beyond providing your customers with reassurance and peace of mind, think about other ways you can help—but do so tastefully. Consumers are rightfully suspicious of companies trying to capitalize on a crisis, and you definitely don’t want to be seen as one.

Though some companies have undoubtedly turned their customers off, others have been more successful in their efforts. What seems to be working is shifting focus from simple advertising and instead focusing on being helpful, useful, and informative. Chipotle, for example, has found multiple ways to be helpful: promoting free delivery on orders of $10 or more through Uber Eats, and hosting a series of virtual “lunch parties” on Zoom. For customers isolated in quarantine, the combination of food and distraction is a welcome one.

3. Re-evaluate your ad spend

This isn’t simply a matter of whether to reduce your ad spend, though global ad spending is indeed expected to fall. Whether you should increase or reduce your ad spend depends entirely on what you’re advertising and whether there’s an increased or reduced demand for it. Airlines, for example, will not benefit from maintaining or increasing their ad spend around international travel right now. But some sectors, like movie studios planning digital releases or e-commerce sites promising fast shipping, might benefit from increasing their spending.

Whether you’re planning to spend more or less, you should also consider how and where you’re trying to reach your customers. With most everyone quarantined at home, we can make some basic assumptions. For work, fun, and pure distraction alike, consumers are going to be more active on their devices and more likely to engage digitally. But while digital activity is up, we have fewer channels overall in which we can engage our customers.

Combine what you know with what you expect (and that’s tough, with so much uncertainty right now) and make decisions accordingly.

4. Keep your tech stack in prime condition

Now is the time to ensure every application in your tech stack—whether that includes a CRM like Salesforce, a marketing automation platform like Pardot, a collaboration tool like Slack, or advertising tools like Google Adwords or Facebook—is in great shape. With everyone online, your digital tools are your biggest and most important assets.

Wherever possible, audit these systems for potential problems and resolve all issues. Remember: each application in your tech stack carries its own set of potential consequences when working incorrectly. Common repercussions include:

  • Errors in a system like Salesforce can disrupt productivity
  • Marketing or messaging mistakes can irritate your audience and result in higher numbers of unfollows, spam complaints, or opt-outs
  • Inefficiencies in Adwords can result in unnecessary spending
  • Misuse or poor adoption of a collaboration tool can lead to employees operating in silos

If you haven’t adopted automation for simple processes or tasks, now is a great time to do so. Look for automation opportunities during your audit process and prioritize their implementation.

In summary

These are uncertain times, and as marketers, it is our job to stay informed and shift our strategies and messaging as often as necessary. And while it’s easy to be anxious about the future and the fate of marketing or our brands, we must remember that eventually, normality will resume.

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